Ideas 2011 July/August 2011

The 14 Biggest Ideas of the Year

A guide to the intellectual trends that, for better or worse, are shaping America right now. (Plus a bunch of other ideas, insights, hypotheses, and provocations.)

11. Gay Is the New Normal

Jonathan Rauch The Atlantic

Perhaps this had to happen: the straight-rights movement is here. No, it does not call itself that. (Yet.) But opponents of same-sex marriage, and others who are unfriendly to the gay-rights movement, have adopted the posture of a victim group. They are, it seems ... an oppressed majority.

The backstory is this: Until recently, and for as long as pollsters at Gallup have thought to ask, a clear majority of Americans regarded homosexual relations as morally wrong. The entire superstructure of anti-gay sentiment and policy stood upon that foundation of opprobrium. In 2008, however, the lines crossed, with as many Americans (48 percent) telling Gallup that gay and lesbian relations are “morally acceptable” as said they are “morally wrong.” And in 2010, for the first time, an outright majority, 52 percent, called homosexuality morally acceptable, with only 43 percent condemning it. From here, the level of opprobrium is likely only to shrink.

This change is a watershed in gay-straight relations, and it brings a disorienting political role reversal. It is the condemnation of homosexuality, rather than homosexuality itself, that will be increasingly stigmatized as morally deviant. And it is the opponents of gay equality who will insist they are the oppressed group, the true victims of civil-rights violations. Indeed, they have already developed, and are vigorously marketing, a “gay bullies” narrative:

Confronted with a poll showing that a majority of Americans support gay marriage, Maggie Gallagher, a leading gay-marriage opponent, responds that the poll reflects not true public sentiment, but gay activists’ success at “intimidating and silencing.”

Describing a dispute involving a bakery that refused to make rainbow-colored cupcakes for a pro-gay student group, David E. Smith, the executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, writes: “Homosexual bullies and their heterosexual accomplices are now speciously attempting to turn this into an issue of ‘discrimination.’”

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, says that if California’s ban on gay marriage is not upheld, “we’ll have gone, in one generation, from 1962, when the Bible was banned in public schools, to religious beliefs being banned in America.”

In a country where evangelicals outnumber self-identified gays by at least 10 to 1, and where anti-gay bullying is endemic in schools, and where same-sex couples cannot marry in 45 states, and where countless gay Americans cannot even get their foreign partners into the country, much less into a hospital room—here, we’re supposed to believe that gays are the bullies? Get used to it. This is the script of culture wars to come.

Contributing editor,

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